Participatory approaches to public decision-making constitute a very active area of scholarship and practice that stretches back over 20 years. While there is no comprehensive bibliography of this field, the number of scholarly articles is surely in the thousands. Distributed across many different fields, this frenetic scholarship appears in many different literatures, and draws from experiences from virtually every region of the globe. In addition, this socio-political phenomenon has sprung up largely outside of academic settings and researchers are struggling to keep pace and document what is occurring in practice.

Scholars' collective attempts to understand the emergence of participatory methods appears to have been significantly inhibited by three factors: a large and increasingly unwieldy terminology, difficulties in getting beyond case study research toward more synthetic scholarship, and absence of conceptual models that help field practitioners (negotiators, facilitators, mediators) get a handle on complex situations and thereby facilitate those practitioners' design efforts.

The overall challenge facing process designers (and facilitators) is the need to competently operate on at least three different levels simultaneously:

  1. To organize the process itself - to structure workshops, design activities, establish dialogue and steer the negotiation among the stakeholders, etc.
  2. To manage whatever is in the room - the people, issues, history, emotions, concerns, worries, claims, blame - whatever flows out from the participants.
  3. To accurately read and understand the cultural and institutional context of the situation - for example, power structures, norms, practices, history, legislation, and rules around the process.

Our three-level perception of the "designer's challenge" is quite similar to that of Li, Tost, and Wade-Benzoni (2007) describing the challenges that negotiators face. We build on their concept and intend to bring it one step further - in the form of a unifying public policy negotiation framework: The Unifying Negotiation Framework 1.0.

The Unifying Negotiation Framework 1.0 proposes to:

  • help people organize their thinking about new or seemingly disparate cases;
  • help make cases more comparable by providing a consistent terminology;
  • provide an analytic lens that moves scholarship forward; and
  • support analysis and design.

For a fuller description of this framework, see the following working paper: Unifying Negotiation Framework 1.0: An Organizing Metanarrative of Policy Discourse by Steve Daniels, Jens Emborg, and Gregg Walker.

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